Dinner at Castle Ravenloft with Strahd von Zarovich is one of the highlights of Curse of Strahd. It’s one of those events that lingers in the minds of all Dungeons & Dragons players who’ve been through it, years after the event has unfolded.
Unfortunately, the Curse of Strahd adventure module doesn’t provide much guidance on how—or even when—to run dinner event. At best, it provides a few loose suggestions as to when Strahd might send an invitation to your players’ characters.
This guide is going to fill in those blank spaces by giving concrete guidance and suggestions on how your party can have Dinner with the Devil!
Dinner with the Devil
At a certain point within the campaign, the character’s actions within Barovia will prompt Strahd to take a greater interest in them. To this end, Strahd will invite the characters to dine with him at Castle Ravenloft under a promise of peace and safety.
This chapter will guide you through the dinner event itself, and provide insight into Strahd’s thought process during the event.
When characters first arrive in Barovia, they are unlikely to rouse very much of Strahd’s interest. They are nothing but more in a long line of adventurers, doomed to join the march of the dead. Until, that is, they prove their mettle by performing some great deed or other noteworthy act.
Once his eye is upon the party, Strahd will want to learn more about them. Who are they and where are they from? What motivates them? What are their fears? How best can he manipulate them?
To answer those questions, he will extend a formal invitation to dine at Castle Ravenloft. The invitation may be found as a handout at the end of the Curse of Strahd module, but you are free to write your own.
As written, the module provides several suggestions as to when Strahd might extend his invitation: after the characters interact with the Spirit Mirror in Wachterhaus (area N3p), at the end of Saint Andral’s Feast, after Ezmerelda’s Retreat at Van Richten’s Tower, and after the reunion of Ireena and Sergei in the Krezk pool.
The timing of the invitation is ultimately up to you, however, and should be tailored to your players and their characters. Other suitable events that might trigger an invitation include defeating a difficult foe, acquiring a Fortunes of Ravenloft item, or uncovering Strahd’s secrets within the Amber Temple.
Delivery and Response
In nearly all cases, save the Magic Mirror, the invitation is delivered to the characters by someone other than Strahd. In the case of Saint Andral’s feast, it is delivered by Ernst Larnak. In all other cases, it is likely delivered by Strahd’s steward, Rahadin.
Should Rahadin deliver the invitation, he arrives in Strahd’s black carriage while the characters are traveling along the Svalich Road. At your discretion, the carriage either overtakes them as they travel, or is waiting ahead of them in the middle of the road.
When Rahadin makes his presence known, he also declares his peaceful intentions. He delivers his master’s invitation, and instructs the characters to arrive at the castle in two days’ time, dressed appropriately for the occasion. He does not wait for a response before getting back in the carriage to take his leave.
If the characters attack Rahadin, the horses, or the carriage, he makes every effort to escape the situation and return to Castle Ravenloft. Rahadin is not concerned about the carriage or its horses, and opts to disappear into the nearby forest using a combination of his misty step, dash, and Mask of the Wild abilities.
Should the characters refuse the dinner invitation, or otherwise fail to show for dinner, Strahd is disappointed but not surprised. His esteem for the party is lowered substantially, and he resorts to other methods of information gathering and manipulation.
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Nothing that Strahd does is without purpose. In addition to learning more about the latest adventuring party to enter his domain, he has one or more of the following goals in mind for the dinner:
Identify a consort – Strahd is a collector of beautiful and interesting people, and he has grown bored with the latest addition to his collection: Escher. Should a member of the party stand out as a suitable replacement, Strahd will set his sights on turning them into a vampire and locking Escher away in his crypt.
Identify a successor – Strahd knows that he cannot leave Barovia, so long as he is the dark lord of his domain. In order to gain freedom, he will look for a suitable replacement in characters with the darkest of hearts. Should he find a potential candidate, he will make a point of testing them throughout the rest of the campaign, always finding them lacking in some way.
Negotiation – The party may be in possession of something that Strahd wants, such as Ezmerelda D’Avenir, a Fortunes of Ravenloft item, or Ireena Kolyana. In order to gain possession of any of these things, Strahd is willing to strike a deal. What he is willing to offer depends largely on what he wants, and may range from gold, to magic items, to passage out of Barovia. Be cautious when offering the latter, as characters may take Strahd up on his offer and end your campaign! If he is attempting to gain possession of an item, such as the sunsword, he will attempt to sway and deal with the individual character who possesses the item.
Sow distrust – If Strahd feels like the party is a credible threat—perhaps they have one or more Fortunes of Ravenloft items—he may seek to undermine their unity and trust in one another. To this end, he may focus his attentions on a single character, or perhaps gives one character a unique gift. He may also take a more direct approach with lines such as, “One of you shall betray the others. It is already happening. I’ll leave it up to you to uncover whom.”
Arrival at the Castle
On the day of the dinner, the characters are expected and welcomed guests in Strahd’s home. When they arrive in area I, Strahd’s carriage is waiting to escort them the rest of the way to the castle. Taking the carriage is optional, but it is faster and makes traversing the drawbridge much safer.
Once in the courtyard of the castle, characters are greeted by Cyrus Belview. His moth-eaten clothes appear to have been washed, and he has attempted to tame his hair with pungent grease. He bows low and bids the characters follow him in through the great double doors. Cyrus then leads the party into area K8 where he hands them off to Rahadin.
If any member of the party is not washed and dressed appropriately for dinner, they are chastised by the chamberlain. He then leads them up to the guest room (area K50) where they may wash and change. When they arrive in the room, Gertruda and Escher are already laying out suitable garments for them.
This encounter presents an opportunity for the party to interact with Gertruda, whom they likely heard about quite some time ago in the Village of Barovia. She is an easy character to forget about, and this lets you bring her back to the forefront of your players’ minds. Additionally, if you want Escher to be a sympathetic contact within Castle Ravenloft, this is also an opportunity for him to interact with the characters without Strahd seeing or hearing.
The Dining Hall
As written, characters enter the dining hall to find an illusory Strahd playing the organ. Instead of that, consider placing the real Strahd in the dining hall—after all, he is likely not intimidated by the party. He may or may not be playing the organ, to your tastes. Consider having Strahd simply sitting at the head of the table, waiting in sinister silence.
Other Guests and Staff
Strahd is not the only NPC in attendance at the dinner. Several other members of Strahd’s household are present as well, either to dine or to act as waitstaff.
Despite his eccentric nature and disheveled appearance, Cyrus is an accomplished chef. With the help of several undead servants, he cooks each course of the meal himself down in the castle’s kitchen. Additionally, he serves as the headwaiter, ordering the delivery of each dinner course by his temporary assistant, Helga.
Stepping out of her role as the castle maid for at least one night, Helga serves as a member of the waitstaff during the dinner. When commanded by Cyrus, she delivers and clears plates of food from the table, and refills drinks as necessary.
At no point will Helga speak to the characters, or even make eye contact with them—save for the briefest of moments. Her avoidance of the characters is not due to any command by Cyrus or Strahd, but rather to her desire to play the part of an unwilling captive. Her behavior here sets up her act and future betrayal during later encounters.
This is an ideal time to introduce the characters to the consorts, rather than late in the game when their ability to interact with the characters is minimized. Allow the personality of each consort to shine through during dinner conversation. Volenta is almost entirely silent, communicating instead through body language. Escher is reserved and polite, as he sees a repeat of his own past in the characters and their current predicament. Anastrasya and Ludmilla pepper their conversation with subtle jabs against the characters, and remarks about their impending fate.
A Fine Affair
Despite his brutality and evil nature, Strahd is still a nobleman at heart. As such, a formal dinner at his residence is no small affair. In order to charm and entertain the characters, he will pull out all of the stops in regards to preparing an exquisite dining experience.
Although Strahd himself cannot leave Barovia, his reach knows no bounds thanks to the Vistani people. In order to prepare an elegant dinner worthy of the Von Zarovich name, he will import ingredients that have not been seen in Barovia for centuries from whatever realm that lays outside Barovia’s border.
Like any fine dining experience, the dinner at Castle Ravenloft is split into multiple courses. Each course of the meal takes roughly thirty minutes to an hour to complete, giving plenty of time for conversation between Strahd, the characters, and other guests. At no point does Strahd or any of his consorts partake in the meal, choosing instead to sip on goblets of red liquid.
Depending on the dietary preferences of your players, you may want to adjust the food that is provided during the dinner. For example, if your players are vegetarian or vegan, the meat courses should be replaced by suitable vegetable-based alternatives.
To begin the meal, a bowl of lobster bisque is set before each character.
During this course, Strahd will formally introduce himself, if he has not already done so. He will go on to detail the history of the land of Barovia, and his role in “liberating” it.
Once finished with his own story, Strahd will seek to know the stories of each of the characters. Through their own tales, he attempts to learn as much about them as possible. At various points, any consorts in attendance may pipe up to make comments or ask questions of their own.
This is an excellent opportunity for your players to build up the backstories of their own characters through improvisation.
The bisque is cleared away, replaced by a plate of sliced tender beef drizzled in a dark sauce and framed by vibrant greens. Placed between the characters are bowls of freshly baked bread, still warm from the oven, and pads of freshly churned butter.
By the time this course arrives at the table, Strahd should have a good idea of who the characters are and where they come from. It’s at this time that he begins to work toward his goal for the dinner, whether that be negotiation, sowing distrust, or identifying a successor or consort.
The entree dishes are cleared away, to be replaced by saucers topped with an arrangement of fresh fruits. The bright reds and yellows of the berries, picked at the height of their seasons, stands in stark contrast to the darkness of the castle.
At this point, the dinner is winding down. Depending on how conversations have gone, tensions at this point may be at an all time high, however. If necessary, Strahd will attempt to lighten the mood with a joke.
“Castle Ravenloft has an extensive library. Just the other day, I was reading a book about an immortal dog. It was impossible to put down.”
There is no accounting for the actions of the characters. At any point, a character might launch an attack against Strahd, one of his consorts, or the waitstaff.
In order to prevent such an occurrence from disrupting the carefully-planned dinner, Strahd has prepared the wall of force spell. Should any character show signs of aggression, he will cast the spell to create a barrier separating the characters from himself and his consorts. At that point, he will attempt to defuse the situation and continue the dinner on as planned.
“I assure you, this barrier is for your protection, not mine. You are trying to skip to the end of our story, but we have so many more pages yet to go.”
If peace cannot be achieved, Strahd and his consorts will exit the dining hall in mist form. At that point, all lights within the castle are extinguished and the safety of the characters is no longer guaranteed.
Spending the Night
Once the dinner is concluded, Strahd will offer to let the party stay in his castle until morning. He will also grant them leave to explore the castle at their leisure, save for the castle’s lower levels.
Should the party accept Strahd’s invitation, they are led by Cyrus Belview to the lounge and guest room (areas K49 and K50) where they may spend the night. After attending to their needs, Cyrus excuses himself and returns to his chambers (area K66).
In the morning, the characters are roused by Cyrus who leads them the courtyard. There, the black carriage waits to take them anywhere in Barovia.
Strahd’s guarantee of safe passage lasts until the final member of the party exits the carriage. At that point, the door to the carriage slams shut of its own accord, and the horses immediately dart off toward the castle. An ambush soon follows, comprised of your choice of Strahd’s minions.